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Absolution Black. Book 4


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BOOK 4 Part 1

Black searched around the Resser’s laboratory, picking up pieces of paper then discarding them on the floor when it was plain they were of no use, just the ramblings of a madman. He cursed as he knocked a flask of foul smelling liquid onto the stone below, smashing the glass. He had been distracted and in a foul mood for the last half hour, since he had foolishly admitted his darkest secret to Lydia. He corrected himself. No, there were much worse things he had done, but he had seen the look in her eyes, the shock and repulsion, and he didn’t know how to explain things to her.

Plus now it seemed that someone was masquerading as his father, and for what purpose? Why would someone want him to know that his father was still alive? And why were the cult suddenly so interested in their wayward son, after all these years. He had tried hard to cover his tracks, basing himself here in Malifaux, away from the tendrils of the elders. But obviously they had found him once more, and he reasoned it would soon be time to move on again, but where? Another thought struck him….what if it wasn’t the cult that had given him the key to escape, what if it was someone who just wanted him to think that? And why use his father’s crest? His head began to swim with too many possibilities and he forced himself to focus on the task at hand.

He watched Lydia scanning through the books on the shelves, reading the titles and occasionally flicking one open out of curiosity. He smiled to himself as she pulled a funny face in her disgust at the subject matter, before she tossed the book to one side. She caught his glance once and he was sure she smiled faintly but couldn’t be sure. Maybe telling her would be the right thing to do, he reasoned. After all, it may save her life in the future, should it happen again. He shook his head. No, it won’t happen again, he wouldn’t let it.

He smelt the smoke from a cigarette and turned to see Knoffler holding up a sheet of badly worn paper. He was smiling as he handed the fragile parchment across to Black.

“Think we’ve found our guy. Dieter Grauss, a surgeon from Europe. That’s his travel papers. Came across on one of the first trains it seems, eager to help care for the first settlers.”

Black turned the travel warrant over in his hands. There was a faded photograph attached to the paper but he couldn’t recognise it as the resser he had encountered, as he hadn’t got a clear look at the face. Knoffler moved closer to Black and began to speak in a lower voice, to prevent Lydia from overhearing.

“You are going to have to tell her, and soon. If you want to keep her around that is”

Black looked down, “I know, but its finding the right time. And right now, we need to destroy this place. And I need to investigate this”

He held out the envelope with his father’s seal on it, turning it over and over in his hands. Knoffler took a deep drag on his cigarette before exhaling a stream of grey smoke that hung in the air.

“Do you really think its him, Abs? Couldn’t you be mistaken?”

“You were there too Knoffler, you saw what happened. You know as much as I do that my father is dead”

Knoffler breathed deeply.

“Actually I don’t. When the ‘incident’ happened I was out for the count, so I didn’t see anything. All I remember is coming around to see you standing there, covered in blood. Your father was nowhere to be seen”.

“But I killed him, I’m sure of it. Abernathy told me so. I inherited all his possessions. I couldn’t have done that if the man was still alive, could I?

Knoffler began to move away, shrugging his shoulders.

“I don’t know Abs, Maybe you should be talking to Abernathy about all of this”

Before Black could answer, Lydia’s voice interrupted him. She was standing behind him holding a book. It was the resser’s journal, a diary of the experiments he had committed, his findings. All of his work, written down. She held open a page.

“You might find this interesting”

He read the passage indicated by her finger. It talked of how he had perfected a serum that could transform the human body, to allow it to do unheard of things: Super speed, fast reactions, telekinesis.

Black realised that was how the resser had moved so fast, how he hadn’t been able to land a killing blow on him during their struggle. He also realised the dangers of such a madman roaming the streets of Malifaux, and of the knowledge that maniac now possessed. He nodded at Lydia, who closed the book.

“That explains a lot” Black intoned, “But it doesn’t help me find him”.

Lydia opened the book at another page near the front.

“But this will”.

On the page, scrawled in a messy hand was the name ‘Dieter Grauss’ and underneath an address in Malifaux. He smiled, realising they had at least confirmed their suspect. And now they had a lead on where to find him. He signalled to Knoffler who began to smash the various bottles on the paper strewn floor, covering the stone with a layer of the foul liquid stored in them. He ripped the page with the address from the book before tossing that to the floor. As he left the room, Lydia strolled after him.

“We need to talk”. She tried to grab his arm to hold him back.

He patted her hand before moving it from his sleeve.

“We will, but not yet”.

He strode out of the room. She turned to the Captain who shrugged and indicated she should follow him. As they left the laboratory, the Guild officer took a match from his pocket, striking it on the stone wall. He tosssed it towards the room, and Lydia watched as it landed on a pile of the soaked papers and ignited them. Within seconds the room was ablaze, all the books disappearing into ash, the foul remains of the resser’s experiments engulfed by the cleansing flames. They both turned and followed Black down the corridor. None of them saw the shadowy figure watch them leave from an alcove nearby. It waited for a few seconds then pulled a long cloak around itself and disappeared in the opposite direction, soon lost from view in the smoky haze…….

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PArt 2

They encountered very little on their trek back through the tunnels and sewers, only the occasional rat and once a couple of stray zombies that were just aimlessly wandering around. These were quickly dispatched by head shots from the captain. They walked in silence all of the way until they were safely out of the tunnel once more and onto the riverbank. The rain had slowed to just a light shower, yet the ground was muddy and treacherous. The walk in silence had given Black a lot of time to think, and he had made up his mind to seek answers about his father from the only man who knew the whole story: his old friend and his father’s servant, Abernathy.

As soon as they were out in the fresh air, the captain was reaching for his cigarette packet. To his dismay it was empty, squashed into the chest pocket of his rapidly dampening jacket. He cursed and threw the battered packet down into the sticky mud, and in his anger, over balanced and ended up on his butt in the brown mess. After a series of further curses and the help of Black to haul him to his feet, he stalked off towards the low wall bordering the riverbank, and the Guild wagon that waited on the other side. Black turned to see Lydia trying desperately to hide a laugh behind her hand, her eyes radiant with amusement.

This forced him to smile back and he reached out to take her hand, guiding her across the slippy surface to the wall, lifting her over it before vaulting it himself. It felt good being in her company, she seemed to exude a feeling of happiness and security. He had assumed it was part of her training at the theatre, to be able to put men at ease, to make them free with their money. But now, he wasn’t so sure. There was something about her he couldn’t put a finger on, almost as if she was a lot more than she claimed to be. He also noticed the captain had been keeping a wary distance from her for most of the journey back, and this troubled him. It was something he would have to ask the captain about, to find out exactly what had happened on their journey through the sewers to find him.

The coachman was obviously shocked to see just the three of them return and was waved away by the captain before he could comment. As they climbed into the back of the wagon, Knoffler was still grumbling away about filing reports and how the governor wasn’t going to like this, and how the stench would never come out of these clothes, no matter how hard he washed them. Black just smiled and kept his gaze on Lydia. She intrigued him, and not just in the typical attraction. She had many depths to her, he could tell. He only hoped she would be around long enough for him to uncover them all. She caught his gaze and quickly turned to look out of the slitted window, but not before she smiled and her cheeks turned a pale shade of red.

They had just reached the outskirts of the main town, crossing through the suburbs and slums of the old town, when they suddenly heard a thud on the roof of the wagon. There were sounds of a struggle and then silence. A soft scraping noise echoed through the wagon, as if something was being dragged along the roof, and they lurched in their seats as the coach came to a halt abruptly. Picking himself off the floor, Black looked over at Knoffler who nodded in reply, handing Black one of the guardsmen’s guns he had recovered from the bodies. They slunk along the wagon to the rear door, motioning to Lydia to remain quiet and inside. She nodded back, and for once Black actually saw she meant it. Her face was ashen and she had broken into a cold sweat, a sheen on her hairline. She looked as though she was about to throw up.

Suddenly the wagon lurched again and as they held onto the sides to stop from slipping, they could hear a soft thumping noise growing gradually fainter. Kicking the door open, Knoffler leaped out of the wagon, twisting to train his weapons on the roof of the coach. Black was a split second behind,moving to one side before swinging himself onto the roof of the wagon. He called down to the captain to stand down, and Knoffler re-holstered his weapons. As the captain looked up to where Black stood he noticed the grim look on the face of his friend. Then he noticed the thin stream of blood trickling over the lip of the roof, forming a miniature red waterfall that splashed onto the cobbles below. He motioned Lydia to remain in the coach, though he could tell she had no plans of moving anywhere, huddled up in the corner, her arms around her knees.

He climbed up onto the roof of the wagon and what greeted him made his stomach churn for a moment, despite the gruesome things he had witnessed in his long career as both a Guardsman and his less salubrious work Earth-side. The Coachman’s body was splayed across the wooden slats, blood gushing from three nasty gouges across the unfortunate mans neck and chest. As he watched, the blood slowed to a trickle, and then stopped. He looked closely at the wounds, seeing the roughness to the edges, as if the man had been gouged by claws. He saw Black holding something in his hand, a look of uncertainty on his face.

“Something up, Abs?” He enquired, “Apart from the bleedin’ obvious”.

“You could say that. Take a look at this. You’ll know what it means”

He handed Knoffler the scrap of paper he held in his hand. Blood smeared the corners and he assumed it had been left on the body. When he read the words on the paper he paled slightly. He knew exactly what had happened, and also the consequences that were likely to happen from following the instructions written on the parchment.

WE NEED TO TALK. RESPITE. MIDNIGHT

He handed Black the paper back and took a deep breath. The day was going from bad to worse. Evening was falling and the light fading fast, and they were now stuck in the middle of the wrong part of town, facing a long walk to the nearest Guardhouse, and with things a lot worse than muggers and rapists stalking the streets.

“So he’s back in the frame”. The captain muttered as he squatted down on the edge of the coach roof.

Black walked around to stand next to him.

“Looks like it. But why? What is so important it’s brought him out of hiding and put himself in danger?”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out” Knoffler laughed sarcastically, “ But we’re going to need fast horses. Respite is at least an hour’s hard ride from here. And that’s in the daylight. It will be a lot more dangerous now”.

“You don’t have to come Knoffler. Its me he has the deal with”

“What, and miss out on all the fun? Besides, some poor sod has to clean all this mess up, and I sure as hell plan on it NOT being me”.

They shared a small moment of humour before they swung themselves down from the coach roof and, with the still shaken Lydia leaning on him for support, Black and Knoffler set off on the walk to the nearest guild house where they could report the incident, and get the horses they would need for their trip into the Badlands.

Lydia walked the remaining few streets towards the safe house alone, even though the guardsman had offered to take her to the door. She had said she had wanted to get some fresh air, to clear her head after the incidents of the day, which in itself was true. The last twenty four hours had taken a lot out of her, both mentally and physically. Using her powers so much had taken its toll on her, and she needed to take some time to assess her thoughts and come to terms with her actions. People had died because of her today, good people. People who would never see their families again, whose lives had been snuffed out in an instant to fuel her needs.

She felt like going to the nearest inn and drowning her sorrows in a flagon or ten of ale, letting the guilt and remorse slide away in a drunken stupor. But that would benefit no-one. Besides she needed to keep a clear head. The incident in the coach had shaken her to her core, and she shuddered again as a chill crept through her body as she remembered that feeling of dread, the touch of death against her skin, the churning in her stomach. She had felt it before, that first night she had spent with Black, when she had woken in the night to the sound of leathery wing beats, the same feeling of terror as she felt earlier this night.

Black had told her it was the Nephilim, stalking the streets for an easy kill, and she had known this to be true. But they were monsters, or at least that’s what the Guild had said, a threat to be extinguished. If the creature that had visited them that very evening was the same as the assailant on the coach roof, how deep was Black getting into trouble? Would he be able to get himself out of it? And would she be better off leaving before she too became embroiled in whatever destiny fate had decided to send him to?

She knew instantly that she wouldn’t leave him, she cared for him already, even though it had only been a couple of days since their first meeting. She couldn’t explain it but she felt their fates were entwined tightly, that they were destined to be together to what ever end they faced. She reached the doorway to the small upstairs apartment they had escaped to once it was clear Black’s home had been compromised.

She noticed it was strange that there was no light from any of the lanterns. Abernathy would normally have lit them by now, perhaps he was running late on some errand. She climbed the stairs slowly, sensing that something was not quite right. As she reached the small landing she knew something was indeed wrong. The doorway was slightly open, the faint glow of the fire casting an orange tinge over the floorboards.

She pulled the long knife from her jacket and inched her way to the doorway. She could hear no sounds from within, so she slowly pushed the heavy wooden door open. As she stepped cautiously into the room, she dropped the knife in horror. There, in the chair next to the fireplace, sat Abernathy. With a bullet hole through his forehead…………

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PART 3

Respite was an old abandoned prospector town deep into the badlands that had long since been left to rot by its original occupants when the soulstone they craved had failed to materialise. Now it was a collection of broken wooden buildings, old machinery and the ghosts of its once populated past. As they crossed through the old entrance gate, the two horses began to whinny nervously, and eventually refused to go further. Dropping down from their mounts, Black and Knoffler tied them to the old water trough before glancing around. Knoffler unholstered his revolver before Black stopped him with a shake of the head.

“If they wanted us dead, we’d have been carrion long before now”.

Knoffler slipped the weapon back into the holster and pulled his duster around him to keep out the wind. A sign creaked mournfully in the distance as the pair began their walk up the centre of the town. They had the feeling they were being watched at every moment, and Black was sure that this was the case. He had to admit to himself that this wasn’t the most comfortable situation, but he had had to come. To not do so would be suicidal. He only hoped that he wasn’t dragging his friend along to his death should the worst happen.

“So what do you think this is all about?” Knoffler asked as they walked.

“I’ve no idea, and that’s the worrying part” Black replied, “It’s not time for the conditions of our deal to be fulfilled, so I can only assume something else is bothering our ‘friend’”.

“Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough” Knoffler nodded towards the shell of the old saloon.

A large shape had appeared on the wooden platform that ran around the worn building. Even though it was wrapped in tattered rags, it was plain to see it wasn’t human. Small horns protruded from the forehead of the creature and though they were wrapped under the robes, the outline of small wings could be seen pressing against the material. Dark eyes stared out at them, and the mouth opened slightly in a warning snarl. Black stopped and waited, Knoffler standing a couple of paces to his right.

The creature turned from them and entered the building through the broken doorway. Black walked forwards slowly, stepping up onto the creaking platform, Knoffler following closely behind. The two men shared a glance before they stepped through the doorway and into hell. The building was dark inside, the only light coming from the missing slats that punctuated the walls, and several small oil lamps that burnt and flickered in the breeze, casting a warm glow around the room. Several other shapes were spread across the saloon, all of them dressed in the tattered rags of their brethren. They varied in size, from a few feet tall to behemoths almost ten feet tall. All of them watched the newcomers as they stepped fully into the bar.

As the creatures shifted in their places, Black noticed one large shape appear from the gloom at the rear of the building. Large wings unfurled as it stretched, before it began to pace slowly towards them. As the creature entered the lamp light Black could make out the features: A pair of large horns grew from the monster’s forehead, a wispy beard hung from its chin and its mouth was set in a leering smile. A large scar crossed its face from above the eye to its jaw. Black winced. After all, it had been him who had caused that disfigurement.

The creature spoke, a deep rattling voice that sounded strange and un-nerving when talking in the human tongue.

“Ahhh, Black. And your Guild Lapdog. Come, sit. We have much to discuss”

It motioned to two seats across from where it too sat. Black took a deep breath and made his way over to the seat, and whatever situation lay ahead……..

Lydia ran into the room and across to the chair where the body of Abernathy sat. She felt his skin, now so cold and lifeless. She looked around her in case the killer was still in the building but she saw no sign. She didn’t know what to do, Black was away in the badlands doing something he didn’t want to tell her about. She cursed, it seemed there was a lot of things that Black didn’t want her to know. She stood up and paced the room, trying to figure out what to do next. She couldn’t call the guild, they would think she was responsible. After all, there were no signs of a struggle or forced entry. She couldn’t get word to Black. And yet she couldn’t just leave the body here where anyone could find it. Cassandra. She would go see Cassandra, she would be able to help. But where could she hide the body until they returned? As she scanned the room, she saw an old travelling chest in the corner that would be perfect for storing the body until she could come back and dispose of it.

As she emptied the case of its contents: mainly old clothes and manuscripts, she heard a faint sizzling noise, like the sound bacon made frying in a pan. She looked up and to her horror, watched as the body simply began to dissolve, slowly decaying into a foul smelling liquid that dripped slowly onto the floorboards. The stench was terrible and she picked up an old shirt to hold over her mouth as she stared, unable to move. The flesh had now liquefied and was forming a dark pool on the floor beneath the chair, and the bones were starting to do the same.

Suddenly she was startled by the arrival of two men at the doorway, one of them cleaning a wicked looking revolver with a long barrel. As they stepped into the room she recognised the shooter as Abernathy. She almost fell from the shock at seeing the supposed dead man walking around as if nothing was unusual. He smiled over at her and put the gun down on the nearby table, before making his way into the room. It looked like Abernathy, she admitted. But if it really was, then who or what was the figure slowly dissolving in the chair?

“A doppelganger Lydia” Abernathy said, matter of factly. “A creature of this world designed to mimic anyone it chooses, or anyone it is hired to mimic”

Lydia was having trouble processing the events of the last few minutes, and sat down on the edge of the bed, still holding the shirt close to her mouth.

“Yes they do smell a bit when they go” the old man continued, “ I expect you are a little overwhelmed by the whole thing, aren’t you dear?”

He moved over and poked at the decaying body with a cane. The clothes simply collapsed into a soaking, foetid pile. He turned to the man still stood in the doorway, and the stranger entered the room. He was tall, and probably in his fifties, if not older, yet he still had an iron look about him. He wore a closely shaved beard and his hair was still jet black. Although hidden under clothes, Lydia could tell he had a muscular physique, of a man that kept himself in prime condition. He turned to focus on her, and she gasped as she saw a likeness in his face.

Abernathy looked up from where he was inspecting the remains, and smiled.

“Ah yes, how rude of me. Lydia, I’d like you to meet Joshua Black… Absolution’s father”……..

The Nephilim seemed almost comical as it sat on the crude chair it had made for itself out of an old coffin. Yet Black knew that this creature was far from a joke, and could easily kill both men within a second if it so wished. Thank god for the deal we have, thought Black. He shifted uneasily in his chair as the giant waved away a smaller creature that had brought him food. The creature, known as Hrothgar, turned its gaze to fall on the two men, its baleful red eyes unblinking and full of a savage intelligence.

“We have much to talk about, Little ones” The voice rumbled.

“Well, I guess you’d better start then” Black smiled. Knoffler cast him a worried glance at his off-handedness.

Hrothgar laughed, tilting his head back slightly. A deep throaty laugh that started a chorus of chitters from the shadows. Black had estimated at least forty Nephilim in this room alone, who knows how many more throughout the town. Hrothgar was really building an army now. So different from their first encounter, almost three years ago. Back then, the Nephilim had been badly wounded from a Guild hunting party and Black had stumbled across him almost at the point of death. Rather than putting a bullet through the head, Black had sensed something different about the beast and had spared its life. For two weeks Black remained close, bringing the creature meals of pig and beast. He had been amazed at the rate of recovery the monster had shown, and by its cruel intelligence. They had talked, albeit in actions and small words, as their languages were not the same. He had learnt of the dissatisfaction this Nephilim held with the current regime, and that others held the same opinions.

They had somehow gained a mutual trust, a trust that had allowed Black to leave with his life and body intact. He had assumed he would never see the creature again. But two years ago, they had crossed paths again, and Black had left that encounter with a deal binding him to Hrothgar for a long time, and had left the Nephilim with that wicked scar.

“Patience, Little one. Hrothgar has no quarrel with you. You are his guests for as long as need be”.

“I don’t have time for games” spat Black, “ I have pressing business back in Malifaux”.

The Giant twitched his tail in irritation, and Black wondered if he had pushed their trust that little bit too far. But the Nephilim simply smiled and continued.

“Ah yes. The Deadwaker. And a family problem too, it seems”

“I’m sure my family problems are small compared to yours, demon” Black smiled.

Hrothgar’s grin faded a little and he bowed his head slightly.

“We don’t talk of her in this place. Our time is coming. She will be ….gone”.

Black nodded and shot Knoffler a glance. His companion was visibly sweating. Though he couldn’t blame the man, as he was almost surrounded by no doubt hungry Nephilim that sniffed and circled around the trio.

Hrothgar raised his head and smiled again. He clasped his hands together.

“Right, friend. Business. I need you to do something for me. In return I will give you information about your Father. "

“And what is this task you need me to do, that you can’t do yourself. I mean, you have an army now Hrothgar, I doubt much can stand in your way”

The giant chuckled again, before he continued.

“There is an artefact. We believe will aid our cause. I want it in my grasp, yet it must be given freely”

“Ok. And where is this so-called artefact?”

“oh I think you have it already. Her name is Lydia”…………………………

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  • 2 weeks later...

PART 4

Black felt the blood from his face drain away. Across from him the Nephilim smiled and chuckled, that throaty noise starting a cacophony of howls and laughter from inside the saloon. Knoffler flinched and instinctively his hand reached to his holster. Thankfully Black snapped out of the shock quick enough to notice and kicked the Guild captain sharply on the ankle, causing the officer to curse under his breath.

“You think this Lydia is the artefact, the key you are looking for?” Black let the question hang in the air.

“No Human, I know she is what I am looking for” rumbled the giant, “You will bring her to me, we shall have a little talk”.

“You seem pretty sure. There’s nothing special about Lydia, except maybe her looks!” Black was stalling, trying to find a way to get more information from the Nephilim. “I could bring you some beautiful women, if that’s what you want”

The joke was unfortunately lost on the Nephilim. It rose out of the seat and flapped its leathery wings in annoyance. Black found himself reaching for his revolver out of habit this time, and stopped just shy of the handle. He held his hands up in a placating gesture, realising that this conversation was rapidly turning sour.

“Stupid Human ” the Nephilim spat, “Do you not think I have spies! Right now there is one within your network. It provides me with all the information I need”.

Black cursed. His mind rattled through all the possible people the spy could be, not wanting to doubt any of his inner circle. He needed to get out of there and quickly, to think through a plan of action that could save all their asses. He nodded to Knoffler and the two men rose slowly out of their seats, backing their way slowly through the gloom towards the doorway. They could see the hunched forms of the Nephilim waiting in the shadows as they passed, and Black knew that if this went south quickly, at least it would all be over in an instant. Hrothgar began to laugh loudly as they moved away.

“Three days, Little one. Snake Valley. Noon. Do not disappoint me”

The two men reached the opening and stepped out into the night. They walked briskly to where their horses still stood, untouched. That was a miracle in itself, Black thought as he untied the reins and slung himself onto the saddle. He was aware of the eyes watching him as they rode out of Respite, leaving the hollowed out shell of a town behind them. As they rode he heard the leathery flap of wings accompanying them for almost half an hour. He didn’t look up to find the source, and a sideways glance at Knoffler told him the other man wasn’t planning on doing it either.

The sun was rising on the horizon as the city of Malifaux came into view. They slowed their horses to a trot and sat up in the saddles, each man letting out a deep breath of relief. They had ridden in silence all the way back, mainly to avoid the wrong ears overhearing what they had to say, but also because each man was thanking their stars they had escaped with their lives.

“I just don’t understand”, Black broke the silence, “Why Lydia? There’s nothing special about her”.

He looked across at Knoffler who was looking a little uncomfortable in his saddle. The Guild officer wiped his brow and took a swig of water before replying.

“Actually Abs, there might be something you need to know about that girl……..”

When they reached the downtown area of the city, the two men went their separate ways. Knoffler watched Black ride off before he swung down from his horse and led it into the stables underneath the Guild building. He tied it up in its stall where the beast eagerly began to eat the fresh hay left there, seemingly non the worse for their recent encounter. Knoffler wished he could say the same. He had met Hrothgar a few times before whilst on various jobs with Black, but last night’s meeting had rattled him. Things were getting out of hand rapidly, ever since that girl had come into the picture. Knoffler didn’t believe in fate or destiny, but he was sure that something bad was going to happen, and that the girl would no doubt be central to it all. He had confessed all he had seen to Black as they had ridden through the streets of Malifaux. Surprisingly Black had taken it well, but he didn’t want to be a fly on the wall in that room when Black confronted her.

Thankfully he had the unenviable task of reporting back to his superiors. He wasn’t looking forward to this in the slightest, apart from the fact the lawyers made his skin crawl. He dusted himself down and opened the battered door that led into the main building. The office was a hive of activity, with clerks and runners moving constantly. Several other guardsmen sat or stood in groups, discussing their days, or preparing to take to the streets. A few raised a hand or gave a nod in greeting as Knoffler walked past. He knew he wasn’t well liked but it didn’t bother him. He had a group of men he could rely on and that was good enough for him. Though the events of the last few days had depleted his pool somewhat.

He climbed the old stairs slowly, gradually leaving the humdrum of the main office behind. At the top of the stairs were the offices of the lawyers and the senior staff. He approached the door of his immediate superior and knocked. There was a slight pause before a gruff voice commanded him to enter. He pushed open the creaking door and walked in. His superior sat behind a large wooden desk, that was covered in paper: reports from officers, witness statements etc. To Knoffler’s dismay, a lawyer stood by the window, its back to the room.

“Ah Knoffler. You seem to have been unavailable a lot lately. And I have several invoices here for Guild supplies signed by you. Care to divulge just what it is you are up to?” The impatient tone told Knoffler that his superior was not in the least bit happy.

He was about to respond when the Lawyer turned around and spoke in that hissing fashion that turned his stomach.

“The good captain has been, shall we say, helping me out with an enquiry”.

Knoffler swallowed hard. On the one hand, it looked like he might just get away with this, but the other hand was suggesting he was getting in rather too deep. The Lawyer stood behind the desk as it continued to speak.

“I expect he has much to report about the mercenary Black and his business, no? I expect he has a perfectly good explanation of why they were meeting with Neverborn”.

Knoffler turned pale. How did it know? He knew then that he wasn’t going to get away with anything. He had no choice but to spill it all. And he watched the Lawyer pacing the room as he retold the events of the past few days. He wanted badly to turn and run, but knew he would be dead before he even left the building. Finally he found himself up to date. His superior looked ashen and nervous. The Lawyer simply rubbed its hands and spoke.

“Excellent work Captain! Thanks to your sterling efforts the Guild now has a chance to strike a blow to the creatures that plague us. We know where this force will be and when. It will be a slaughter. Commander, make preparations for a trip. As many men as we can muster.”

Knoffler let out a slow breath. The Guild were going to ambush the rebels, slaughter them to the last Nephilim. He almost laughed, realising that right there was the opportunity they needed to get Hrothgar out of the picture. To release Black from his bond. His elation was dashed immediately when the Lawyer next spoke.

“Of course, I can think of no better man to lead this mission than our good Captain here. Be sure not to mention any of this to Black. We need the meeting to be as planned, no suspicions. You are dismissed”.

Knoffler turned quickly, giving the half-hearted salute he always did before he left the small room, shutting the door behind him. He leant back against the wall, sweat forming on his forehead, and the beginnings of a headache pulsed in his brain. What was that saying, he thought to himself, Out of the frying pan and into the fire?

Black had left the horse at the nearest Guild building, tying it up to the railings outside much to the bemusement of the passers by. He had walked the last few streets in an effort to get his mind straight for the confrontation that was inevitably coming. But there was one thing left he had to do beforehand. He slipped into the darkened saloon and spotted the person he was looking for. A scruffy bearded man that swigged from a large metal flagon. Black sat down next to the man who jumped in shock, before recognising Black.

“I have a job for you Hackett” Black slid a folded piece of paper across the desk to the man, “Just make sure she gets it”

The man picked up the piece of parchment and noted the name scrawled on the front. His eyes widened as he read the name and he hastily tucked the scrap into his jacket. Black slid several gold coins across the table which also swiftly followed the note into the other mans pockets. With a nod to Black, Hackett finished his drink and stood up.

“Consider it done. But then we are even.”

Black nodded, and watched the man leave the inn. He waited a few minutes before he too rose from his chair and walked out into the sunshine.

He made his way to his safe house, steeling himself for the conversation that was sure to follow. As he climbed the staircase he heard voices coming from the room. He could make out three. The woman’s voice was Lydia, he had become fond of those sultry tones. He also made out Abernathy’s voice. It was the third voice that made him pause. He could feel all sorts of emotions beginning to form inside, and he fought to compose himself before he drew the revolver from his jacket. He pushed open the door and raised the gun, pointing it at his father’s head.

He saw Lydia jump up from the bed, but didn’t listen to the protests. He was firmly fixed on the man sitting in the high back chair, his father. The older man didn’t move, didn’t even flinch. He wanted so badly to pull that trigger, but he knew that he couldn’t. All these years he had thought his father dead, killed by his sword. And yet here he was, sitting so casually in his room. He relaxed a little, but kept his revolver trained on his father’s head.

“You are supposed to be dead” he growled.

“And yet, here I sit” the other man returned, “Put the gun down son, we need to talk”.

“You can talk. You can tell me why you have let me think I had killed you, all this time. The gun stays as it is, until I say so”.

His father chuckled softly.

“That’s my boy. Well trained and sceptical. You’ll come to see that what I…” he looked across at Abernathy, “what we did was for the best. I needed you to leave. This was the only way you would”.

“Leave? The order wanted me executed for killing their own! I have been running ever since, all because of some fanciful plan you have”

“That wasn’t the life I wanted for you. I didn’t want you to turn out like me, I wanted you to have your own life, to be free of their shackles”

Black smiled sarcastically. “And convincing me that I had killed you, forcing me to run, to live my life looking over my shoulder, was the only way you could do this!? Why didn’t you just tell me!”

“There’s more to it than that son, and I will tell you when the time is right. I needed them to think I was dead, so that I could do what I needed to do. Now I am ready to be alive again”.

Black laughed, not believing what he was hearing. His own father had made him think he had killed him so he could be free of the order. And Abernathy had been in on it. He wouldn’t be surprised to find out Knoffler was involved somehow too. He lowered the gun.

“So why come back now? “

“To tie up loose ends. I needed you to be convinced that I was dead, so I sought the help of a physician, someone who had studied these things. His name is Dieter Grauss. He gave me a substance that allowed my breathing to stop for several minutes, long enough to convince those that needed to be that I was dead. He revived me soon after. I now need to sever that loose end. I had tracked him down to Malifaux, and couldn’t believe what I found….he was practicing the dark arts of necromancy, of raising the dead. That’s when I stumbled across you, held captive in his cells.”

He paused to collect himself before continuing.

“I slaughtered his assistant and slipped you the key to escape, knowing your abilities would see you safe. I hadn’t counted on your companions arriving as they did, before I could take Grauss out. I was forced to watch as he almost killed you, and couldn’t stop him escaping. Those foul potions of his give him un-natural abilities. I left then, and that’s when I realised you had a spy in your midst. I heard you talking about Abernathy, and knew you were in danger. We had only just disposed of the changeling when Lydia here interrupted us.”

Black’s head was spinning. Changeling? That would be Hrothgar’s spy then…..one thing less to worry about. But the re-appearance of his father had shaken him, and he sat against the table to steady himself. His father continued.

“I know what I did was unforgiveable, but I hope you will at least understand. I never intended to come back, but fate has brought us together again. I want to be a part of your life again Absolution, believe me”

Black stood up and holstered his revolver, grabbing spare ammunition from the drawer. He swung around to face his father.

“You don’t have the right to make that decision. This isn’t over.” He moved to the doorway and turned around.

“But while you’re here, lets finish your business, then we can talk.” He smiled at Lydia, before turning back to the other two men.

“Lets go hunt some ressers”………………….

END OF BOOK 4

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